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Small Swiss school goes big on the internet

Computers and the internet bring the world home to Sulzbach's students swissinfo.ch

Thanks to a government initiative even the smallest schools in the remotest parts of Switzerland can go online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This content was published on November 19, 2003 - 11:44

One of the institutions benefiting from the “Public Private Partnership (PPP)” project is a small school in the town of Sulzbach in the eastern canton of Appenzell.

The PPP initiative was launched in December 2000 and is a joint project of the public and the private sector. The private sector provides the infrastructure and the public sector funds the basic and ongoing training of teachers.

“Even though Sulzbach is a bit out of the way we are still hooked up to the internet,” Gerd Oberdorfer, a teacher at the school, told swissinfo.

Oberdorfer has been teaching fourth and sixth grade pupils at the school for almost 30 years.

There are only two classrooms where the pupils, ranging from first to sixth graders, are taught everything from maths to geography.

School life

Oberdorfer and his family live in the school, which is located outside Sulzbach, and attracts pupils from all over the region.

He says it is difficult to separate his private from his school life as his living room also doubles as the staff room: “I live in the school and for the school.”

Whenever possible, the lessons take place on location – in the forest, on the meadow or in the garden but also in the museum, in the workshop or on the internet.

Tobias, who is attending fifth grade, is trying to find information on local animals on the internet.

“I am trying to find out more about cows, deer and sheep. We are currently studying Indonesia and I want to compare the animals that live here with the animals that live there.”

Computer lesson

Children attending the school in Sulzbach take their first computer lesson as early as the first grade.

“We have programmes that can be used by each pupil individually and we need the net to stay in touch with other schools,” Oberdorfer said.

Sulzbach keeps in close contact with a school in Germany and some of the pupils even play chess with their German counterparts.

“We send the coordinates of our next move via email. Our opponents then have time to think about their next move and email it to us,” Florian, head of email, told swissinfo.

But Oberdorfer says he makes sure that the students do not exploit the use of the internet.

“I try to control how the children use the internet. It’s not that our students are allowed to surf the net at will. They have to be looking for specific information.”

Easy access

Fifth-grade student Simone finds working with the internet very exciting. “Leafing through books is hard work whereas on the net you can simply open a site and if you don’t like it you just go back,” she said.

Even though the children are aware of the amount of “junk” published on the net and the existence of illegal websites, they still have complete faith in the world wide web.

“Most stories come with a photo, which means they must be true,” said Tobias.

“Illegal sites are very attractive for kids as they are curious, but we have a sort of a social network as the kids hardly ever work on a computer by themselves,” said Oberdorfer. “They keep tabs on each other.”

Oberdorfer sees many advantages in using the internet. The students can practise working on the net on their own and do not need other people to teach them.

One of the biggest advantages, he says, is that even those with bad handwriting skills are able to deliver neat copy and present it on their homepage.

Personal commitment

The small school has been connected to the internet for many years and thanks to the PPP project it has been online 24 hours a day since February this year. Private companies have donated software and hardware.

Oberhofer says there are not many other elementary schools in Switzerland which are connected to the net.

“The most important thing is that teachers are enthusiastic and take the initiative. It’s normally the higher grades that get access to the net, which is typically Swiss – from top to bottom.”

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein, Sulzbach (translation: Billi Bierling)

Key facts

Twenty-eight pupils attend the Sulzbach school near Oberegg in canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes.
The pupils have 12 computers at their disposal.
The school has been online for 24 hours a day since February this year thanks to the government schools on the web project .

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